In this video, staff and students from
Staffordshire University explain the skills that you'll learn and the facilities you're likely use on a psychology course. For more information on what they offer, head to the university's subject guide page.
What A-levels do you need?
You’ll be pleased to hear it’s pretty darn flexible. Most places aren’t too fussed about you having psychology at A-level (although some will request either a science or a social science), and plenty of unis won’t specify any subject requirements at all. Obviously there are a few exceptions: Swansea University ask for AAB for their
psychology BSc, but state that they’ll accept ABB if applicants have either psychology, maths or a science at A-level, for instance, while the University of Edinburgh asks for BBB - AAA (including either maths, psychology, biology, chemistry or physics at grade B) for their four-year psychology MA.
What are your study options?
If you’re hoping to study psychology at university you’ve got two options: a BA (Bachelor of Arts) and a BSc (Bachelor of Science). Some universities will offer one or the other, and some will offer both, but in reality there’s little difference between the two. In theory a BSc qualification is more science-based than a BA, but many universities that offer both options actually advertise identical course content and an identical structure for each. Your best bet is to double-check with the university you’re interested in to check what modules they offer.
For the most part, a psychology course will be taught within a classroom environment. You will be expected to learn psychological theory by attending lectures, and this will then be reinforced through discussions in seminars and by applying the theory to practical case studies. In your first year you’ll cover the basics (different psychological methods and theories and how these are applied), and then you’ll be given the chance to focus on more niche areas as your degree progresses.
Many psychology programmes will also offer a professional year on placement. This will involve a year working for a company or organisation, assisting with research in a clinical setting and applying what you’ve learned on your degree in a real-life setting. Not all courses will offer a placement year, so it’s worth taking this into consideration when you choose a course (you don’t have to do a placement, but it certainly won’t hurt your chances of finding work after you’ve graduated – remember, the more experience you have, the better!)
Why study Psychology & Counselling?
Having an understanding of why people think and behave the way they do is not only a valuable skill to have in life, but it’s also something that can be pretty darn handy for a number of different careers.
If you want to learn more about the mysteries of the human mind (which can be a pretty weird and wonderful thing at the best of times), then psychology is the perfect course for you. Don’t worry if you’re unsure of what you want to do after you graduate, either – with a psychology degree you won’t be forced to go down the route of counselling or research, necessarily, as the skills you’ll learn on the course can be applied to a huge range of different careers.
“Whilst a degree in psychology will not teach you how to read minds, it will give you an insight into human behaviour and mental functioning,” says Sarah Kirby, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Southampton. “Psychologists are interested in how people think, feel and act. This can be studied in a variety of ways, including using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study brain structure and function in young offenders, and by using visual search strategies to help airport security staff monitor X-rays of baggage searching for guns, knives and explosives.
“A degree in psychology provides you with a scientific approach and capacity to question, test, evaluate and formulate appropriate responses. This is a useful foundation for a broad variety of careers including human resources, recruitment consultancy, retail management, and market research. If you want to become a mental health therapist (e.g. a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner) or Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registered practitioner psychologist (e.g. a clinical, counselling, educational, forensic, health, occupational, or sport and exercise psychologist) or become a Chartered Psychologist, a BPS accredited degree in psychology is the first step towards doing this.”
What kind of skills will you learn on the course?
“As well as learning about psychological theories, research methods and findings, a degree in psychology will provide you with a range of subject specific knowledge and skills, such as critical thinking, problem analysis, problem solving skills, computing skills, and statistical analysis (using SPSS) and interpretation. This will enable you to learn how scientists identify scientific problems and try to answer them, how to think critically about how psychological research is presented in the media and elsewhere, and also how to apply psychological theories and research to everyday life.
“You will also develop attributes that are valued by employers in today’s competitive job market. These skills include self-management, team working, problem solving, communication and literacy, application of numeracy and IT, analysis and decision making, and planning and organisation. As these days just having a degree is not enough, we also provide students with opportunities to help them stand out from the crowd by offering relevant careers advice and additional skills and experiences such as our voluntary research assistant, student ambassador, and international exchange schemes.”
- Sarah Kirby, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Southampton
What key modules can you expect to cover in your first year?
“During their degree at the University of Southampton, students will cover the full curriculum set out by the British Psychological Society (BPS) required to meet the graduate basis for chartered membership (GBC). In the first year this will include modules such as the science of psychology, thinking psychologically, the psychology of social and individual wellbeing, individual differences, empirical studies, statistics, and research methods. Students will also have the option to study modules such as attractiveness and classic studies in psychology.”
- Sarah Kirby, Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Southampton
After your degree
Upon graduation, many psychology students take further postgraduate qualifications in order to train as medical psychologists or therapists and work within private clinical practice or for the NHS. Similarly, there are a number of PhD and MRes programmes for those who wish to carry out research in a specific area of psychological study.
However, many psychology graduates also find work in other sectors such as advertising and PR (due to their in-depth understanding of how people think and react to certain visual aids).
As part of a psychology programme, students will also acquire a number of strong analytical and communication skills, making them ideal applicants for journalism and customer relations roles. It is also possible to find work within charitable organisations (as a fundraiser, for example) or even as an event organiser. Those wishing to pass on their knowledge of psychology may also wish to train as teachers by studying for a PGCE.